Making Innovation Strategies Work: Improving the Design and Implementation of Innovation Strategies

National Innovation Strategies (NISts) play a central role in orienting and shaping innovation policies in many countries. All OECD countries and most emerging economies have adopted a NISt over the past decade and it should be beneficial for ministers to exchange views on their country’s experience in this area.  A NISt typically offers a vision of the main challenges that a country is confronted with and the directions that should be taken to address these challenges and seize new opportunities in the future. National strategies are sometimes accompanied by R&D spending targets set in the context of higher level political agendas, such as the Lisbon Agenda for Europe (the “3% target”). Such strategies have multiple uses. By promoting an exchange of views among stakeholders they can help develop a common strategic vision of research and innovation. They can also lead to the definition of shared objectives – and map the ways to achieve them (e.g. through institutional reforms, improved governance and dedicated innovation policies). NISts typically address a range of economic, social and environmental challenges, some of which will be covered in other sessions of the Ministerial meeting. It is proposed that this session of the CSTP Ministerial focus on experiences in designing and implementing NISts. 

NISts are very varied in terms of their ambitions, time horizon, scope, how operational they are, etc. This variety generates a wide range of issues and experiences regarding design and implementation, thus providing ample scope for learning and the exchange of good practices.

While in most countries NISts cover both research and innovation, in some the NISt focuses on one but not the other. NISts often set multiple objectives concerning the performance of the innovation system. These goals can relate to issues such as; the interplay between the business sector, universities and government labs, the public sector and other actors; “grand challenges”; and achieving excellence in various scientific or technical fields. However, NISts do not always achieve their stated objectives, and sometimes do not even implement them all. Difficulties can arise from many sources, such as: poor design, including a lack of realism in the choice of objectives; an inadequate design process (such as when main stakeholders are not consulted and basic assumptions are insufficiently examined); and difficulties in implementation itself. Obstacles often reside in a lack of motivation of, or even the resistance from, certain actors whose concerns and agendas have not been sufficiently integrated into the NISt. Obstacles can also reside in institutional settings, which do not provide the right incentives and do not facilitate the reorientation of resources required by new strategies. 

The set of research and innovation policy instruments (the so-called policy mix) has become increasingly differentiated over time. This is due partly to the emergence of new, more efficient instruments. It also reflects a legitimate effort to tackle specific issues in a targeted way. But policy mixes can also result from competition between institutions combined with a lack of co-ordination. Moreover, as innovation is used as a tool to achieve a wide range of policy objectives, and as the number of ministries and public and private stakeholders expands accordingly, the role of a NISt in providing coherence is gaining in importance. At the same time, developing a strategy that provides coherence and implementing it in a consistent way across government and between different layers of government (international, national, regional, local) has become more challenging. In this regard, some governments have adopted experimental approaches, e.g. by encouraging platforms for self-organisation and co-ordination around sectors, technologies, and societal challenges. Ministers also have to decide who will prepare the Strategy, what organisational setting is appropriate and what level of resources is needed. A discussion on national experiences with the design and implementation of NISts and new approaches applied in this context can provide insights into the lessons learned and point to possible good practices in this area.

Innovation is now recognised as key to many policy objectives (such as competitiveness, the environment, energy and health). Innovation is also critical to industry, including industries that use advanced technologies and those that use mature technologies, as well as agriculture and services (e.g. tourism). There is a need to co-ordinate the multiple ministries and agencies involved in these areas, all of which now influence innovation and whose effectiveness in the field depends also on the overall science and innovation system. The role of the ministry in charge of research vis à vis other mission-oriented ministries is key to this strategic coherence. Certain instruments, like foresight exercises, or innovation systems policy reviews, might also help in this cross-government strategic integration. 

The current economic context is also affecting NISts. Many countries are facing tighter fiscal constraints while, at the same time, the need to mobilise innovation to meet economic, environmental and social goals is rising. This generates demands for greater efficiency and higher impact of research and innovation activities, based on improved steering and funding mechanisms (including public-private partnerships) and supported by advanced monitoring and evaluation tools and methods. Efficiency objectives also raise difficult questions on the right balance between immediate impact and long-term orientation, which can be essential in important areas of science. More generally, R&D spending targets and the budgetary procedures for allocating scarce resources between types or fields of research may need to be reviewed in the context of fiscal consolidation and the possibility of slow growth in the foreseeable future.